My English-language oasis is BBC World, a 24 hour news channel that's pretty good, particularly when compared to the 24 hour news channels in the U.S. And it has at least one offering that is utterly fantastic: A documentary series called "Holidays in the Danger Zone," which ran repeatedly over the weekend.
The series is simple: A cameraman and correspondent visit an undercovered locale such as Kyrgyzstan or the Euphrates river and tell its stories, often with the help of local guides who themselves become central characters in the tale. This isn't just a series of standups. It's more of a travelogue in which the reactions of the correspondents feature prominently, as do the lamentations of the guides. The viewer is repeatedly let in on the challenges of covering a particular aspect of the story – in one episode, the correspondent discussed tactics for keeping a foreign minister from kicking the team out of a country. (They included taking her out to dinner to stall for time. The dinner was briefly shown, and the annoyance on the face of the minister was evident.)
There have been a number of mini-series' within the series, my favorite of which is probably "Places That Don't Exist," in which the correspondent visited countries which aren't officially recognized such as Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Somaliland and Transnistria. There was also one on the Violent Coast – Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone – and the now-bulging Axis of Evil, which featured North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and Cuba.
Unless you have BBC World, or live in Britain or Canada, you can't watch the series without doing some work. But it's well worth it. And it gives you a chance to reflect on why enlightening programming like this is so hard to find in the U.S., despite the fact that it's so inexpensive to produce. I'm not naïve enough to think that a show like this could necessarily beat out the angry and combative gabfests that run on the cable news channels in prime-time. But in our multi-channel universe, shows like this should have a place. And I have a feeling they soon will. You'll just have to log on to see them.